Walther Parson Walther Parson of the Innsbruck forensic team. Gerichtsmedizin Innsbruck/Lorbeg

Russian tsar’s family identified by lab

Forensics institute that will analyze Cocula remains has international reputation

In theory, just one cell is all that’s required for DNA identification.

One of the world’s leading DNA experts says that’s all they need to confirm a person’s identity, although they look for 10 intact cells to produce results that can be accepted legally.

Walther Parson will lead the team that analyzes remains believed to be those of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa and while he wouldn’t talk specifically about that case, he has offered information on the process.

His forensics team, he said, is able to work with specimens that are in advanced stages of decomposition and degradation, employing the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from one’s mother.

That team works at the forensics institute of the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria, and has earned recognition for its results in high-profile cases such as the identification of family members of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II. Their remains were found in graves in the Ural Mountains of Russia; the bodies had been incinerated and bathed in acid.

The Austrian lab discredited claims by alleged descendants of the Romanov family by determining that the bodies were those of all the tzar’s children, killed along with their parents after the Russian revolution.

Parson, a molecular biologist, led the testing in that case as well as another that reconstructed DNA profiles of victims of a tsunami in South Asia in 2004, after the bodies had been rotting in extreme heat and humidity.

The institute has been credited with helping to solve more than 8,000 crimes, and has one of Europe’s largest DNA data banks.

Its next project will give it more international attention, as Mexico and the world wait for the verdict on remains found in Cocula, Guerrero, following confessions by drug gang members that they killed and incinerated a large group of people on the night of September 26.

That was the same night that the mayor of Iguala allegedly ordered police to ensure protesting students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training school didn’t interrupt a civic event.

That former mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, was formally charged yesterday with homicide in connection with six deaths in Iguala that night. Kidnapping charges are also being considered against the mayor in the disappearance of the 43 students.

This week the Attorney General’s office shipped some of the remains found in Cocula to the lab in Austria, where Parson will lead efforts to resolve one of the biggest criminal cases in Mexico’s history.

Sources: Milenio (sp), Reuters (en)

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